After hitting seven straight three-pointers and scoring 24 first-quarter points, D’Angelo Russell was on pace for 96 points. Of course, no one expected that to continue, but Russell scored only eight points the rest of the way, mostly against tough coverage by Fred VanVleet, and the Raptors overcame a 15-point third-quarter deficit to pull out a 116-102 victory over the Nets Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
The lead changed hands on four straight possessions early in the fourth quarter, but C.J. Miles scored 12 straight Toronto points, including a trio of treys, to give the Raptors a 103-95 lead with 7:15 left. The Nets cut their deficit to three with 5:48 left but missed every field-goal attempt the rest of the way. DeMar DeRozan scored the first seven points of an 11-0 run to give the Raptors a 114-100 lead and control of the game.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson identified VanVleet as the primary cooler on defense for the Raptors. Russell managed only four of his 32 points against VanVleet, who finished plus-31 in his 27:31 on the floor.
“I thought VanVleet came in and changed the game,” Atkinson said. “I just think his pressure, his aggressiveness, his grit, he really changed the game. Behind him, they have two big-time rim protectors in [Serge] Ibaka and [Jonas] Valanciunas, which allows them to be aggressive on the perimeter. That’s why they’re a heck of a defensive team.
“VanVleet was all over the place defensively. There’s not a whole ton of guys who can change the game defensively, and he did it tonight.”
It was the 18th loss in the past 21 games for the Nets (21-47). After making his first seven threes, Russell shot 3 of 15 the rest of the way. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson contributed 19 points, but the Nets were outscored in the paint, 62-36. Valanciunas topped the Raptors with 26 points and 14 rebounds, DeRozan added 15 points and VanVleet totaled 15 to go with his defensive job.
Russell was brilliant early. He stroked a corner three to open the scoring and stayed molten-steel hot for the first seven minutes of the game, scoring 24 points as the Nets built a 29-18 lead on his 7-for-7 shooting from three plus three foul shots.
It was the highest-scoring quarter of Russell’s career, and it was one short of the Nets record of eight threes in one quarter by Joe Johnson on Dec. 16, 2013 against Philadelphia.
“My teammates got me open,” Russell said. “In transition, they found me. Maybe they made the extra pass to me. I give a lot of credit to them.”
Asked if he was upset when Atkinson pulled him after his first miss, Russell said, “No, it’s been the same rotation for the last few games. Coach makes that decision. I try to adjust with it.”
The Nets ended the first half with a 67-57 lead after a 20-10 run, including eight points from Dante Cunningham, who replaced injured Jarrett Allen (sore left ankle) as the starting center. They built their lead to a high of 15 points at 74-59 in the third quarter, but that’s where their shooting well ran dry. The Raptors put together a 19-3 run, including a pair of threes by VanVleet to grab their first lead at 78-77 on a three by Kyle Lowry with 4:58 left in the quarter, and the Nets struggled from there.
Russell acknowledged VanVleet’s impact on Toronto’s defense.
“He’s a solid defender; he’s pesky,” Russell said. “I give him a lot of credit. He plays solid defense . . . They trapped me and forced me to pass it. I just missed shots down the stretch. I think if I make those shots, it might be a different game.”